Tuesday, February 27, 2024

DC Power 2024 (March, 2024)

If you haven't been following the story so far, Raphael Arce gained empathic powers during the Lazarus Planet event, which led him to a confrontation between Martian Manhunter and the psychic ghost of Doomsday that caused his corpse to be pressurized into a blood gem of sorts. Later, around the same time Supergirl and the Alien Atlas were dragged to the metaphysical Hell to again deal with Doomsday, we learned the infernal realm also hosted the lost soul of Raphael Arce. However, in the afterlife Arce had taken on the identity of Bloodwynd, with a new array of abilities. He was at this point in the Fifth Circle of Hell, and had to use a demon in each circle as a "passport" into the next. He was apparently working his way through the circles in pursuit of The Devil himself, and had randomly been assigned the role of "A Superman for Hell," whatever that means. Bloodwynd was sidetracked by an adventure outside Hell alongside the actual Superman and Etrigan the Demon. He then returned to Hell, where we rejoin him in the Eighth Circle: Fraud.

Raphael was meant to be tormented by "his" personal Hell, invoking the Arce surname and images from the career of the original Bloodwynd. But also, Raphael learned the history of the actual Blood Gem, crafted by antebellum slaves to slay their cruel master and gain infernal power from the act. The Blood Gem had been handed down through the ages, and passed through the hands of Raphael's mother. Returning to Bloodwynd, even Raphael was surprised to learn that he was a distinct entity from J'Onn J'Onzz, rather than an assumed identity of the Martian. Felix Faust eventually consigned Bloodwynd to the pit, which I wasn't aware of, and may be an invention of this story.

The demon assigned to torture Bloodwynd confirmed that he was a blood relative of Raphael, and that any who die while wearing the family's Blood Gem are immediately damned to Hell. Raphael claimed Bloodwynd was a hero who saved lives and served with the Justice League, and so fought the demon to liberate his soul. Bloodwynd finally declared himself Quintus Arce, the brother of Raphael's mother, who together faked his death so that her son might be spared the curse of the Blood Gem. Instead, they were both temporarily incarnations of Bloodwynd, until Raphael drained all vestiges of the mantle to allow Quintus access to Paradise. Quintus made Raphael promise to be a better Bloodwynd than he had managed, and to tell his sister that he loved her before vanishing. Finally, the new, sole Bloodwynd grabbed his uncle's demonic tormentor to grant him access to the Ninth Circle, to confront The Devil...

"Pit Stop" was by Lamar Giles, Sean Damien Hill, & Anthony Fowler Jr. I think the 8-pager is the best of the new Bloodwynd stories, which admittedly isn't saying much, but it did make sense, engaged me, and sorted out necessary details. It doesn't make it any less misguided, though. In the early days of the internet, Bloodwynd got picked up by African-American comics catalogers and touted as a high level powerhouse deserving of more exposure. However, in all my years of following the character as peripheral to Martian Manhunter and as a Black super-hero, I never heard of anybody who had a legitimate affection for him. It was all utility-- the abilities, the visibility, not being a "street-level" stereotype. But fans? Not really.

The main reason Bloodwynd is still a recognized quantity is that he was high profile during the Death of Superman, and strong enough to be one of the only Leaguers still standing after trading blows with Doomsday. Bloodwynd was created by Dan Jurgens, for his League book that was a key tie-in to the Doomsday arc, who got a splash page with Ice in Superman #75. It was by design, but Jurgens never actually put the character over, and abandoned him in the rushed wrap-up of said Justice League America run. Sure, he's on the big funeral for Superman poster, with the foul play red herring of J'Onn J'Onzz also appearing separately, but he's sort of like Dan Ackroyd at the "We Are The World" recording session. Bloodwynd is a Where's Waldo-- a "who is that and what was he doing there" geek drink night trivial pursuit answer. No matter what else you try to do with him, the very name of Bloodwynd in disqualifying. Bloodwynd isn't an heroic identity, but a gastrointestinal disorder. What do you call two Bloodwynds? A pair of Arces. A Bloodynd is when you fart so hard that you explosively rupture a hemorrhoid. A Bloodwynd is like racing stripes in your underwear, but it gets up the crack and looks like spray paint splatter from being kissed directly by the pucker. Bloodwynd is when you queef while on the rag. No good comes from a Bloodwynd.

And despite all this lip service, if DC cared so much, why have they passed Raphael Arce around from book to book and across multiple creative teams? Why saddle him with such a lame sub-New Bloods/gene bomb/"so you just got powers from an event book" origin story? Now that DC barely publishes anything not directly related to their Trinity, do they really have room to explore a multi-hero Bloodwynd dynasty, especially when the mysterious and slightly sinister old Bloodwynd has given way to a plain Jane goody-two-shoes model? There are ten stories in this book, most spotlighting a single hero or villain of African descent. There are three different variant covers spotlighting different groupings of these characters. The main cover offers eight characters, a variant has seven, and then there's a Far Sector one with about a dozen. Bloodwynd made none of these covers. He's not one of the five who got a Who's Who bio page, either. Nobody actual cares. This is trademark management personified, that will get killed off in a different crossover event down the line, until we get a third case of Bloodwynd... like Montezuma's Revenge.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Action Comics 2023 Annual #1 (February, 2024)

Thy foes sought slaves, to scrape and kneel.
Not fighting men of hell and steel.
I swear, you bring The Demon Etrigan into a story arc to spout a couple lines of doggerel and then get taken out by a super-kid with a sword? What are you even doing? And I have to cop to not knowing, because I only grazed the first three chapters of this serial to make sure that I wasn't missing any other Bloodwynd content. Like for instance, I though Blue Earth were just domestic super powered xenophobes, but are they from an actual Earth-Blue in the multiverse? I mean, this book starts on "Earth Al Ghul," a quasi-medievel fantasy setting and the base from which the "Empire of Shadows" conquered countless worlds in the "Dark Multiverse." I put quotations not because these aren't real things in the current DC continuity, but to speak of them mockingly from a place of ignorance, as elders do. All you nerds to brayed about how you weren't confused by multiple Earths before the Crisis? I hope you're lapping at this like a pig in slop. Then as now, you can have at it. I have always, will always, side with the Anti-Monitor on this anti-matter. That's a pun, son. Y'see, stories should matter, but when there's infinite variations on the same old crud, it's the opposite of mattering. Get it? You're a lost cause, boy.

Superman, Bloodwynd, and Etrigan saved a family from execution for defying the bad guys, hence the pull quote. Then Bloodwynd and Superman ran interference against the evil forces while The Demon advanced to the castle to save The Man of Steel's adopted daughter from being corrupted/possessed by the alternate universe granddaughter of Ra's al Ghul. *sharp inhale* But see, Etrigan stabbed in the back with Cloud Strife's ridiculously outsized sword (that's a Final Fantasy VII reference, dear child. This dumb visual had a clear cultural origin point.) by *checks Wiki* Otho-Ra. It's a lousy name, but don't worry, they recite the same Kryptonian fable twice here after having done it last issue and I saw at least once before with full visuals in a prior issue to let us all know her handle will be Starchild and her twin brother's Red Son by the time this is all over with. Nothing like completely exhausting a trademark. Just ask Strange Visitor.

There's a bit in here where Otho-Ra's arms are wrapped in chains that are said to be formed of links derived from each fallen foe, which I guess is where the new Bloodwynd also gets it from, since he's vaguely tied to Janan al Ghul's access of Earth-Zero via Hell. I didn't realize Earth-Zero was the new Earth-One, or Earth-Prime? I can't even keep track of something as basic as which Earth the name brand heroes are supposed to be on anymore. Thanks DC. It's like how I don't know if Blue Earth is an actual Earth, because those guys were also in the first three issues of the new Power Girl series starring a Gen-Z author-insert with no personality traits in common with the character I used to know, and I'm not checking for Bloodwynd there. What I do know, is that the chains hurt the minimalist Space Ghost indebted design that is arguably the best thing about the Bloodwynd concept. Kind of like how being a brash feminist with over the shoulder boulder holders was Power Girl's trademark, rather than crippling insecurity. These clouds aren't going to shout for themselves.

Giant energy portal in the sky unleashed massive space vessel flanked by faceless invaders and Man-Bats, in case things weren't already Marvel Phase Four enough around here. Blue Earth saw their two-faced leader Laura Ingraham "Norah Stone" was really Sister Shadow, and rather than doubling down by buying merch under the new branding, were convinced to repel the actual invaders alongside the Superman Family. Least realistic story element, based on our current political hellscape? After contributing little more than poor rhymes, Etrigan and Bloodwynd-- like-- gestured at the portal and made everything incoming on our side of it burst into flames? Maybe lead with that, guys. Also, The Demon claimed Janan al Ghul's soul for Hell, because something something her portal had left her indebted something infernal. Also, Bloodwynd and Etrigan stopped appearing at this point. I don't know what their deal was in this story, overall and specifically at this point.

Again, I skimmed most of the story line, so I don't know if I'm supposed to know who the construction worker who used to be a super-villain and his son are supposed to be, except the guys who tell us how awesome the Superman Family is as a capstone to the lauded recent run of the title. Which based on what I just read, was either well past the point of ending on a high note, or the kind of people willing to pay $4.99 for a monthly comic are so beaten down that this junk rates. You guys, am I just too old for corporate super-hero comics? Am I the one who needs to leave?

"New Worlds: Part Five: The Conclusion" was written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson with art by Max Raynor. It's funny how for decades artists lusted after paper quality that would allow for true blacks, and today they happily turn them back into limp grays with lame digital effects meant to make up for their inability to properly ink their own work. The visuals are otherwise fine, though necessarily a comedown from a relatively name talent like Eddy Barrows, big enough to rate actual embellishment by other hands. One thing I do find deeply annoying about both creators' work though is a tendency toward double page spreads... of narrative. Double splash pin-ups were a nuisance in the '90s, but this is horizontal multi-panel narratives throughout the books. Since it bridges writers and artists, I have to assume this comes down to editorial, or maybe a trend in the mainstream comics I don't read anymore. There's a lot of this in Rogue Sun, an Image title I was following, so maybe the latter. I hate it, because it leaves everything on a flat, narrow plane like a newspaper Sunday strip. I think they're shooting for Hitch-style "widescreen," but it has the exact opposite effect. Nothing pops, there's no surprises, plus I have to read into the staples. It's anti-comics, seemingly made for a sideways slung tablet, and even then that shrinks the image. I want nothing to do with any of this. Too much exposition and running snark this time, so no room to discuss Bloodwynd II's vague red energy zapping abilities and general pointlessness. Next week, then...

Monday, February 12, 2024

Action Comics #1060 (February, 2024)

A drunken, belching John Constantine was hanging out at a bar during a punk show when Superman walked in to plead for him to help find his daughter.

Wait. Stop. What? If this was a '90s comedy, there'd be a record scratch and voice over explainer, now a meme.

I gave up on DC in the first year of the New 52, although my connection had been on life support for years to that point. I never finished reading the 2015 "DCYou" Martian Manhunter series drawn by the swell Eddy Barrows, and barely bought any of the following volume in 2019. I was so divorced post-Rebirth that I don't even know if that maxi-series was part of a greater publishing initiative. G5? But one of the few DC things that I have bought in recent years was the Warworld mega-arc that ran for over a year and across some spin-offs. I have it in trade paperback. I haven't actually read them, but I've heard good things. While Kal-El was off in space, his rapid-aged late teens son Jon took over as the Superman of Earth. At the time, it felt like DC had finally given up on the original Man of Steel, and were transitioning to a younger model whose bisexuality made him hipper and less Übermensch-y. Except, again, everyone seemed to be loving the Warworld stuff, and Jon occasionally kissing another boy was somehow the less sexy product of the two for readers. So now the Man of Tomorrow is still your grandpa's, but he's the lead in a Superman Family title. The Kryptonian Supergirl, the Son of Superman, the Superboy from the '90s/Young Justice, the Chinese New Superman, and the armor-clad Steel with surname "Irons" offered with or without y-chromosome, as you choose. They even have matching uniforms liked an X-team. No need for a trial run, because I hate it on premise. Isn't the biggest complaint about Superman that he's overpowered, and now there's nine of them working together out of one Metropolis?

On right, the math. Yeah, there's two more. Otho-Ra and Osul-Ra are fraternal twins with powers comparable to Superman's, whom he saved from Warwold and has now adopted. If you're saying to yourself "didn't they do that with the new Flamebird and Nightwing during the 'New Krypton' period," I'll note that ended fifteen years ago. Like Chris Reeve, that thought makes me feel like catching a bullet in my teeth. I did reference the Superman Family title from the '70s, and closer to my peak fandom, the "Team Superman" that included versions of many of these properties in the '90s. Nothing ever ends or is ever truly new in mainstream comics, so instead of starting a pressure campaign against "thet queer Super@#$" like a Comicsgater, I just read more satisfying comic books elsewhere now. It's less work and stress, but you can't pretend your homophobia, racism, and misogyny are about "reverence for continuity," so it's a trade-off. And psst-- don't tell EVS, but I quietly like some of those indie comics with the non-white, non-binary, non-male characters, because they're just stories about people. Nobody's broken down my door to peg me yet. Having signaled my virtue, I can now comfortably restate that I hate most of these Super-people and they can all die painfully. But hey, I did pre-order Steelworks. I'm not a complete CIS-het monster!

Now that we're mostly caught up, I can move along to other things I hate. Like a mainstream DCU Constantine that is written as a cartoonish chav. That an adult-oriented character from a Vertigo title is in a Superman book. That of all the world class mages Superman knows, he goes to lower-tier dirty dealing gutter trash like John Constantine. That Superman spends most of the issue so distraught over a daughter that I just learned he had that he sounds like the woman screaming "my baby" at a fire and it turns out to be her cat. That the antagonists of the arc are a bunch of super-xenophobes given temporary powers, like the Everyman Program in 52 or the White Triangle Daxamites from Archie Legion, and are able to swiftly turn the populace against well-established heroes, as did the Hyperclan and G. Gordon Godfrey (but with metahuman powers of provocation.) That the big bad leading them is the parallel universe daughter of Batman and Talia al Ghul seeking revenge for a plot that was foiled in an earlier spin-off special involving a version of The Authority that is no one's favorite. Hystericalman with super-speed and hearing fails to heed a warning from Constantine, accidentally smashes the McGuffin that allowed the bad guys to travel to Earth via Hell, and releases the new team of Bloodynd and The Demon Etrigan back to our world... only to continue in a wrap-up annual. All that, just to explain how Bloodwynd's wynding arc leads to this nonsense.

"New Worlds, Part Four" was written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson. I was today years old when I realized that he and Daniel Warren Johnson are not the same guy, plus he's the new hotness giving me "next Tom King" vibes. Not a compliment, if there was any doubt. It was drawn by Eddy Barrows, who was once to Ivan Reis as Bryan Hitch was to Alan Davis, but also like Hitch, is adopting a more "realistic" looser illustrative style that I'm not as into. I thought he was just doing this for one horror story, but I guess it's for keeps. There's a bunch of other artists listed that may be drawing other pages, or just a squad of inkers, but I don't care enough to write or parse it out. I still have to read a whole ass annual of this tripe.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Action Comics Presents: Doomsday Special #1 (October, 2023)

There's a bunch of equivocating mumbo-jumbo about how in the multiverse, the collective subconscious, through the power of belief, can create a metaphysical simulacrum of yadda-yadda... but the simple truth is that the Biblical Hell exists in DC Comics, and thanks to the breakdown of the Vertigo partition, The First of Fallen from mature readers Hellblazer comics still runs it.

At the end of Dark Crisis, Doomsday was physically destroyed. In Lazarus Planet: We Once Were Gods (March, 2023), it was able to manifest from the collective memory of the city of Metropolis mumbo-jumbo yadda-yadda. Martian Manhunter confronted Doomsday, but it ultimately took the mortal sacrifice of a young man named Raphael Arce to stop the revival. However, Doomsday continued to exist in Hell, where it was building back the power necessary to break down a door to return to physical reality. This power was partly derived from the belief of the denizens of Hell that Doomsday was capable of the feat, and this faith challenged the reign of The First. So, a vision of Doomsday in Hell was sent to Martian Manhunter based on their recent interaction, J'Onn sent the vision to Supergirl so that she could interpret Kryptonian elements, and they were both suck(er)ed into Hell to serve The Fallen. With reservations, Supergirl ultimately suited up in a special armor that recalled her old foe Satan Girl, while the Sleuth from Outer Space (sorta) rallied the denizens of Hell to strengthen the barrier from Hell with their own distorted and traumatized bodies. This was all done to spare their mutual loved one Superman from having to deal with Doomsday yet again, but back in Hell, it just kept pounding away at that barrier.

"Doomsday in Hell" was by Dan Watters, Eddy Barrows, & Eber Ferreira. While Barrows had worked on the 2015 volume of the Alien Atlas' solo (maxi?) series, this version was much gawkier and vulnerable looking, suiting the Gene Colan/Tom Mandrake-inspired sketchy linework of this Halloween tale. It was nice to see J'Onn connected to Kara Zor-El again, as I tend to like their pairing more than either's with Superman (especially now that it means Supergirl has to wear a lame "team book" uniform with pants.) It still bothers me to mingle DC and Vertigo material though, especially on a darned Super-book. Feels too much like spiking the Kool-Aid at a children's birthday party. But hey, these weren't the only characters with a tale spinning out of that Lazarus Planet one-shot...

The spirit of Raphael Arce wandered the Fifth Circle of Hell, wrath, when he was discovered by a demon and attacked. Punishment was sought for the one who had brought Doomsday to Hell, and made it even worse than before. However, the demon didn't know that Arce had brought pieces of other beings to Hell with him, namely the Martian Manhunter and... Bloodwynd! Arce knew that he didn't belong in Hell, but also he felt that no one else did, either. So he had been moving from one circle of Hell to another and liberating the lost souls there with his new Bloodwynd powers. Even with them, he still needed to trick a demon in each circle to allow him passage to the next, as he Bloodwynd couldn't make the trip unescorted. See, besides the freedom trail, Bloodwynd also sought to have a word with the devil himself...

"Bloodwynd: A Superman for Hell" was by Dan Watters & Max Raynor. While implied in the first story, it's even more clear here that we now have a second confirmed member of a Bloodwynd legacy. Actually, that was even hinted at in the '90s origin story, and given that the premise is barely over thirty years old, I do find it a bit odd that a relatively new and underdeveloped property had to be put out to pasture for a new model who still bears the misfortune of being called "Bloodwynd." Heck, it would have been worth it if it meant that he would be called "Blood Gem" instead. Anyway, along with the strength and flight of O.G. Bloodwynd, the new model has chains wrapped around his wrists that he can animate Spawn-style, and he manages to take control of some Doomsday-infused giant hellhound besides. Also, all his teeth are canines? I'm not sure any of this adds to the design, and if there was one thing Bloodwynd had in his favor, it was that Space Ghost fashion.